In the best of times, it’s a big job for leaders to demonstrate the kind of empathy that builds trust with their followers. Showing the kind of empathy that builds trust is even harder in this era of remote work and social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, says episode 99 guest Sean Martin, Ph.D., associate professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, which hosts CUES’ CEO Institute III: Strategic Leadership Development.
“People will choose to trust you to the extent that they believe that a) you have the skills to do a job (they can trust your abilities you have the technical know-how to do things), b) that you have the integrity that they can trust that you’re not going to tell them a lie; you’re not going to misrepresent things; you’re not going to ignore the truth and then c) trust in your benevolence, really trust that you actually have a sense of caring and concern and empathy for them,” explains Martin, who is among three highly-rated speakers presenting at Knowledge and Networking in November.
“To the extent that you have those three dimensions, … then we can say you are a trusted leader. That’s really hard to do virtually. It’s not impossible. But when we’re in a virtual environment, when people are not able to interact face to face or when we’re having interactions over the phone and all we can hear is each other’s voices, or we have to stay six feet apart or we’re all wearing masks … that presents a lot of challenges for how to we express empathy effectively; how do we show people how much we care. … Are we taking the time to really build relationships when people are distanced?”
Martin’s research involved how organizational and societal contexts affect leader-follower dynamics. He says COVID-19 has had “big general effects on leadership,” but also speaks to social class dynamics.
“I think we’re waking up to the fact that a lot of the jobs that we rely on societally and even within an organization is done by people that we frequently—and I don’t think intentionally—… take for granted,” he explains. “We frequently assume that people will be there to bag our groceries. We assume that people will be there to work on manufacturing lines. We assume and take for granted that people will show up to do the actual production of goods and services that make our economy run. When something is taken for granted, I think we tend to not value it as highly.
“For a long time, we haven’t had a reason to as a society to wake up and realize the incredible value, skills, abilities and critically important roles that people (have) who often are not sitting at the very high end of an organizational hierarchy,” he continues. “When COVID hit and exposed a lot of these things, we are starting to realize that the people we really can’t afford to lose are the people who are making things and the people who are performing the face-to-face service. That’s the essential work. We need to start valuing that differently."
The show also gets into: